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Opening a Path to Jesus

Opening a Path to Jesus

Jesus is always on the cutting edge of society because He is relentlessly the Truth. The Truth isn’t what Jesus says or what Jesus believes. The truth is what Jesus is. It is not possible for Him to be anything else. As for the rest of us, we have a strong tendency to fall into camps. We are the oppressed or we are the oppressors. We are the victims or we are the bullies. We are the good guys or we are the bad guys. At least, that is how we tend to see things. But truth be told, we are usually if not always at least a little of both. That is why, generally speaking, Jesus is not only universally celebrated but also universally despised. Jesus is heroism and controversy. Jesus is peace and tension because He stands in the truth even when He stands alone. Part of the point of being baptized in the name of Jesus, is becoming one with Jesus, the Truth. If we really want to stand in the truth, we must learn to stand where Jesus stands, and that means standing in the points of tension in the world. Jesus warned His disciples against putting stumbling blocks in someone’s way who may want to join His movement. In our podcast on Luke 17 (Don’t Stop These Little Ones!) I spoke about the responsibility of those of us in positions of power and advantage to give up the exploitation of our advantage. (Pretty much, all Americans have an economic advantage over the vast majority of the world. It’s worth noting.) But the warning against stumbling blocks is not a warning only to be heeded by the wealthy or the privileged. Sometimes the “poor” are simply wealthy people without money. Their source of power lies elsewhere. In Luke 19 we meet Zacchaeus, a hated tax-collector and a wealthy traitor in the eyes of his fellow Jews. He was not a traitor because he was rich, he was a traitor because he got rich by collecting taxes from his own countrymen to give to the pagan overlords who oppressed them. And if this wasn't enough, Zacchaeus also filled his own pockets with the additional charges he was allowed to apply to his fellow Jews for his own benefit. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus but he could not “because of the crowd.” (Luke 19:3). In Luke 18, we met a rich young ruler who was conscientious about the Torah, observing its commandments from his youth. This wealthy man had no difficulty approaching Jesus. According to the late Dr. Ken Bailey (Seeing Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes), the crowds would normally make way for a powerful, wealthy, and important man in the community. The crowd in Luke 19 has in fact gone out to greet Jesus and to escort Him into the city as a matter of honor. The crowd knew how to treat guests of honor and people of note. However, Zacchaeus, though he was rich, was not such a person. In the eyes of the crowd, Zacchaeus was a traitor who had better watch his back. If he were to get lost in a crowd somewhere, a Zealous Jew might just slip a knife into his treacherous belly and it would all be over. And the crowd would certainly not give way to this blight on the community. There is more than one way to put stumbling blocks in a brother or sisters way. Sometimes the wealthy and powerful do so by abusing their advantages. And sometimes the poor also put stumbling blocks in someone's way by licking their wounds and justifying their wrath. In this case, the crowd by agreement considered Zacchaeus to be unworthy of an audience with Jesus and they blocked his way. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus and the crowd wouldn’t let him. Did Zacchaeus deserve the treatment that he received from the crowd? Most definitely. But then again, who hasn’t taken advantage of another at some point? And who hasn’t failed in the vocation to be the light of the world? Was the crowd in any real position to cast judgment on Zacchaeous? They obviously thought so. But Jesus went over their heads and spoke to Zacchaeus up in the tree, splitting the wall of resistance to Zacchaeus like the parting of the Red Sea. The crowd thought that they were honoring Jesus by hindering this unclean tax collector from getting his unclean hands on Jesus, but Jesus slighted the entire crowds' intention by not only recognizing Zacchaeus, not only addressing him personally but even inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ house! Like the woman with the hemorrhage before, uncleanness touches Jesus and becomes clean, not the other way around. Salvation was coming to the house of Zacchaeus. In Luke’s previous story, a poor blind man wanted to be healed and to see Jesus. The crowd stood in His way and told him to be silent. But Jesus turned the actions of the crowd around by charging them to bring the man to Him. Rather than being a stumbling block to the poor man, Jesus wanted the crowd to be his servant. This time, the crowd is boxing out a rich man who also wants to see Jesus. But Jesus again contradicts the crowd's intention by inviting himself into the house of the rich man. Because “the son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” When Jesus said that it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”, He was not saying that He prefers poor people over the wealthy. What He was saying is that what humans tend to value as powerful and “necessary”, such as our questionable ways of accumulating power and our compulsory ways of accomplishing our agendas, are not God’s ways. God doesn’t need the wealth of the wealthy or the influence and “friendship” of the mighty in order to establish His Kingdom on earth. God has another way and it is the way of the cross that Jesus was taking. It looks impossible. It looks like foolishness. But it is the wisdom of God. The rich Zacchaeus and the poor blind man were equally valued in Jesus eyes. Both of them had their own unique obstacles to coming to Jesus and the crowd served as one of those obstacles in both stories. What are the odds that we ourselves are part of a crowd which is boxing someone out whom would like to see Jesus? He is no respecter of persons. Jesus loves everyone. Really. Everyone. This is the truth and we need to stand in it. Let us not be stumbling blocks, there are enough of those already. Who can we invite to Jesus’ table today? Who around us is asking to see Jesus? Their cries may be cloaked in a thousand disguises, but I believe that these people are all around us. Jesus, give us Your eyes, Your ears, and Your heart and split the sea of our resistance to Your love.

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